The gray fox is a small carnivorous canine that is found throughout the eastern and southern United States, ranging from southeastern Canada to Columbia and Venezuela in South America. It is a common resident in the Finger Lakes Region, but because it is a forest dweller, it isn’t seen very often. The gray fox was the most common fox species in Colonial America but the cutting of forests for timber and farmland reduced its habitat and enabled the red fox, which has a preference for more open and diverse habitats, to become dominant.
As their names might imply, the two animals are identified by the coloration of their coats. But even so, while they both may share the same combination of colors, they are present in differing patterns and varying proportions within the overall color scheme of each animal. While the soft coat of the red fox is mostly a rusty-red with black leg stockings and a white tail tip, that of the gray fox is more of a grizzly mix of a silver/gray/black blend of stiffer fur with tinges of red around the chest, legs and ears, and a gray tail with a black tip. Some grays exhibit a black stripe along the topside of their tails as well. An adult red fox can weigh from 10 to 12 pounds and average 4-feet in length, including its tail. The gray fox is only slightly smaller and a bit shorter.
What sets the gray fox apart from all other wild canines is its ability to climb trees, which is useful in its preferred habitat of deciduous woodlands. The gray fox’s diet is comprised of mostly small mammals like mice, voles, and rabbits but it will also eat birds, amphibians, and reptiles along with acorns, berries, grapes, and apples whenever they can find them.
Breeding takes place between mid-January and mid-February and a two-month gestation period follows. Kits are born in an underground den – most likely an abandoned or hijacked woodchuck burrow – in March or April but don’t venture out for another 8 to 10 weeks. Then they begin hunting with their parents before dispersing in the fall to find new territories of their own. Both males and females reach sexual maturity by the end of their first year.
The gray fox climbs a tree much like a bear by gripping the trunk with its curved front claws and pushing upward with its hind legs. It descends like a bear as well by coming down backwards. Once in a treetop, they are apt to jump from limb to limb like a squirrel. Some gray foxes even den in trees if a large enough cavity is available. The gray fox’s ability to climb trees protects it from predation by coyotes, which do not tolerate competition from other canines – especially red foxes.